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By Yogin Kothari
After a long wait, late Wednesday night, Congress posted a spending agreement for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year. For the most part, we achieved significant victories, especially given the challenging political environment, in repelling proposals that would have directly undermined the role of science in public health and environmental policymaking.
By Ken Kimmell
A major front in the climate change debate has moved to the courtroom, as I've previously discussed. Last week, plaintiffs in two separate cases won significant procedural victories—one against major fossil fuel companies, and a second against the Trump administration. Here are the latest developments and their implications.
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In the two hours after it aired, the interview has already been viewed about 2 million times, drawn about 100,000 "Reactions" and 52,000 "shares."
The chat was announced Sunday on the senator's Facebook page, with many fans eagerly anticipating the sit-down. Here's what one person said:
The former presidential candidate—who has one of the strongest records on climate change in the Senate and has been highly critical of President Trump's cabinet appointees such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt—got straight to the point with his first question to Nye.
"We have a president of the United States who thinks that climate change is a 'hoax' emanating from China," Sanders stated. "We have a new administrator of the EPA—somebody who I strongly opposed—who is in the process of dismembering environmental protection regulations in this country. What are the short and long term implications of a president who has that view?"
In response, Nye said that the long term implications of global warming are "potentially catastrophic," adding that "the problem is the speed the world is warming and the rate climate is changing."
As for the short term effects, Nye described how coastal cities such as New York will have to spend billions of dollars to build more seawalls to avoid future extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy.
Additionally, he explained how the effects of climate change will be "much more difficult" for people in the developing world who will be forced to migrate and potentially foment conflict due to a lack of resources.
Nye, the former host of the beloved children's science program Bill Nye the Science Guy, has since become a frequent and prominent commentator about scientific topics, especially the perils of a warming planet.
The half-hour interview covered topics such as climate change deniers, the fossil fuel industry's tremendous influence in politics, transforming the transportation industry and getting more people interested in science by promoting space exploration.
Nye also criticized President Trump's recent 2-for-1 executive order that requires federal agencies to repeal two old regulations for every new one.
"Who came up with that number? Regulations are like a machine," Nye said. "You don't just take parts away from the machine just because."
During a poignant moment in the interview, Sanders touched upon the Trump administration's notorious crackdown on the EPA and climate scientists.
"What is the role of scientists today?" Sanders asked. "[The] people who are searching for truth are under pressure."
"I have close friends who work in climate science and they are very concerned about their data being reviewed or erased," Nye said. "They are also concerned about their jobs."
On the topic of climate deniers, Nye said that they suffer from cognitive dissonance, describing how these people have a psychological disorder preventing them from facing reality.
"To the deniers out there. I want you to think about what is called cognitive dissonance," Nye said. "Instead of accepting that the climate is changing, deniers are denying the evidence and dismissing the authorities."
Nye said that the best way to change their minds is to convince them of the economic potential of renewable energy. He used The Solutions Project—a state-by-state roadmap to convert the country to 100 percent renewables by 2050—as an example.
"We can power the entire U.S. renewably right now if we just decided to do it," Nye said, explaining how transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives such as wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal, tidal and a reconfigured electric grid "can run the whole place."
He noted that investing in renewable energy would create domestic jobs "that can't be exported."
"From an optimistic point of view, I think if we can get these people to look at the world a little differently, they will be on the side of domestic reproduced renewable electricity in a very quick short order," Nye said.
Not only that, renewable energy is now a very affordable option for many people. As Nye said later in the interview, "You can hate me, you can hate everything. But when you get an electric bill—in California, [you can get it] for 10 bucks every 60 days—that's just fun. Just look at it that way."
President Trump will substantially slash funding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help increase military spending in his first budget plan, the New York Times and Axios reported Sunday.
Cabinet and agency officials will be asked today to prepare budget requests ahead of the administration budget's release on March 13 and sources tell Axios and the New York Times that the EPA and the State Department are particular targets for deep funding cuts meant to help fulfill Trump's campaign promise to boost defense spending. Axios sources in particular report "massive, transformational cuts" to EPA climate change programs.
"A budget is a statement of priorities, and with this proposal, Trump is telling America he doesn't care about what happens to children who are forced to drink toxic water and breath polluted air," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said.
"Trump's budget guts the Environmental Protection Agency—the only federal agency charged with keeping our air and water clean—starves our cherished parks and threatens our wildlife. This is a budget rigged to boost the profits of corporate polluters at the expense of the health of our families."
Trump's first budget plan isn't the only news from weekend. Scott Pruitt promised to roll back Obama regulations "in an aggressive way" in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, singling out the Waters of the U.S. rule, the Clean Power Plan and regulations on methane emissions on federal lands as first in line for the chopping block.
Paraphrasing Yogi Berra, Pruitt told the appreciative crowd that "the future ain't what it used to be at EPA" as he promised structural changes at the agency and critiqued the Obama administration's focus on climate policies.
Some of Pruitt's promises could come true as early as today, as multiple reports suggest Trump will sign an order rolling back the Waters of the U.S. rule by Tuesday, with executive orders targeting the Clean Power Plan and Interior Department restrictions on coal leasing on federal lands expected to come later this week.
For a deeper dive:
I coined the term "Serengeti Strategy" in my 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. It's meant to describe how industry special interests and their patrons in power single out individual researchers or teams of scientists for attack, in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd. In numbers, after all, there is strength, while individuals and small groups are far more vulnerable—and the purpose is two-fold: to undermine the credibility of wider scientific consensus and to discourage other researchers from sticking out their necks and participating in the public discourse over matters of policy-relevant science.
When it comes to attacks on climate scientists specifically, this strategy follows a familiar script. On the eve of a critical Congressional vote, hearing or climate policy summit, a late-breaking "scandal" suddenly erupts. Individual scientists are typically charged with claims of misconduct, fraud or data manipulation and soon enough, right-wing blogs, climate-denying websites and the conservative establishment media are trumpeting the accusations. In time, more objective media outlets are forced to cover the uproar, lending it credibility and oxygen, even as it is responsibly dissected.
With the public conversation hijacked, meaningful progress on climate policy is blunted and the vested interests seeking to maintain our current addition to fossil fuels prevail.
The latest example of this strategy began unfolding earlier this month when David Rose, an opinion writer for the British tabloid The Daily Mail—known for misrepresentations of climate change and serial attacks on climate scientists—published a commentary attacking Tom Karl, the recently retired director of the National Centers for Environmental Information at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a scientist for whom I have deep respect. Rose accused Karl and his co-authors of having "manipulated global warming data" in a 2015 study published in the journal Science. These charges were built entirely on an interview with a single disgruntled former NOAA employee, John Bates.
Rose's charges and Bates' allegations have since withered under scrutiny by journalists—and by the wider scientific community, which quickly noted that the findings of the 2015 Science paper have been independently and repeatedly, verified by other researchers. Bates' secondary claims that data from the Science paper had not been properly archived and that it was "rushed" to publication, have also fallen apart.
Still, the mission of this latest disinformation campaign has been accomplished and with its mooring in technical details too remote for casual news consumers to fully investigate, the headlines will nonetheless create additional drag on any well-meaning efforts to address climate change.
As a climate scientist, I should know. I've found myself at the center of such episodes more than once, as a result of what's become known as the iconic "hockey stick" diagram that my co-authors and I had published in the late 1990s—a graphic display of the data that made plain the unprecedented rate of global warming. While the hockey stick is hardly the basis of the case for human-caused climate change, the visually compelling character of the graphic has made it—and indeed me—a target of climate change deniers for years.
A version of the so-called hockey-stick diagram, made famous by the author—and attacked by his critics.
In the fall of 2003, just days before a critical U.S. Senate resolution to acknowledge the threat of human-caused climate change, an article in the journal Energy & Environment—regarded by many as a haven for climate skeptics —engaged in unsubstantiated attacks of the hockey stick. A group with ties to the fossil fuel industry published an op-ed trumpeting those criticisms in USA Today on the morning of the Senate vote. Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has described climate change as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," gleefully read the article aloud during the Senate floor debate. While the critique on the hockey stick would soon be summarily dismissed, it served the short-term purpose of hijacking the discussion and the bill did not pass.
By Scott Weaver
As a climate scientist I've been trained to base my conclusions strictly on scientific evidence and not on politics. This is why I find it so troubling that President Trump's pick for the top job at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) openly misrepresented scientific data during his confirmation process.
1. There is no "hiatus." The Earth is consistently getting warmer.
Pruitt wrote in response to a question from Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon that he was "aware of a diverse range of conclusions regarding global temperatures, including that over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the 'hiatus.'"
In reality, his idea of a hiatus, and of a potential discrepancy between satellite and surface-based data, has been under intense objective scrutiny by the scientific community for some time—and the results are clear.
NOAA scientists recently published a peer reviewed article in the Journal Science that clearly shows the "hiatus" never existed. A follow-up study undertaken by a separate group of researchers as an objective check on the NOAA result confirmed that the global warming hiatus never happened.
The alleged satellite discrepancy has also been debunked. Stated plainly, raw satellite observations from space are not as accurate as those taken in the actual location, so these raw observations must be quality-controlled for scientific accuracy.
Bottom line is: All data today point in the same direction.
2. Urbanization has not created a fictitious warming trend.
But Pruitt continued to use the idea of a discrepancy between satellite-based and urban land-based data to build his narrative. He now attempted to blame it for the increasing temperature trend—which he just argued did not exist.
Pruitt wrote that he was "aware" that this so-called discrepancy "can be attributed to expansive urbanization within our country where artificial substances such as asphalt can interfere with the accuracy of land-based temperature stations."
Agencies charged with keeping the data, he alleged further, "do not accurately account for this type of interference." Well, he was wrong again.
The impact from urbanization and so-called "heat islands" has long shown to be minimal at best, especially when applied to the massive geographic expanse of the world relative to the lesser change in the geographic extent of cities.
Again, Pruitt ignored scientific facts.
3. Trend is clear: 2016 was the hottest year on record
Pruitt went on to quibble with the fact that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded—by overemphasizing the role of negligible differences in how various scientific agencies around the world calculate the globally averaged temperature.
Except, the diversity of approaches is a scientific strength because it provides a balanced view of the data, much like one seeks a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. These minimal temperature differences don't matter in the end; the overall trend has remained the same over the last several decades.
Despite the trivial differences in methodology Pruitt emphasized, the three long-running analyses by NASA, NOAA, and Great Britain's UK Met Office all showed 2016 to be the hottest year on record, following the two previous record-setting years.
You can't quibble with that fact.Pruitt hopes to run the agency responsible for protecting the lives and health of Americans from environmental threats, a mission that includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. And as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, the EPA has the authority to address greenhouse gases.
This is why the man chosen to lead this agency needs to manage science responsibly so it can do its job. That means listening to scientists and accepting facts, plain and simple.